Wendi and Kip Kip were twins who lived in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. They were both in grade seven. On that day, just before their extraordinary but frightening adventures began, they were both in trouble with the headmistress, who had called them to her office.
‘Hey, Kip Kip,’ Mrs Salamo said, ‘You and Wendi have been late for classes every morning for a week. What’s up?’ Mrs Salamo was usually a nice woman with a charming smile. But she could also be very cross and look angry. She stood in her office with her hands folded across her chest.
‘Well?’ she insisted, ‘Answer me! Quickly!’
Kip Kip looked to his sister for help. Wendi was trying to look brave, but the blood was banging in her heart and she felt dizzy.
‘Well, Wendi, what do you have to say?’ Mrs Salamo said.
Kip Kip wanted to tell the truth, to be honest, as his mother Kristina had taught him and Wendi. But Kip Kip was too ashamed.
‘I’m waiting for an answer,’ the headmistress said. ‘Why are you continually late for school and always sleepy in class? Why?’
Mrs Salamo wore big, round glasses. She suddenly pulled them off and took a big step closer to the twins and stared at them. ‘Well? Well?’ she demanded.
Kip Kip was terrified. She was like an enormous truck speeding towards him. He stood there too afraid to move.
Just then the telephone rang. Mrs Salamo picked up the receiver and said, ‘Oh! Not again!’ She sounded very cross, not just pretend cross as she was with Kip Kip and Wendi. ‘Oh, no! Oh! Goodness! I’ll be there immediately! What a problem!’
Mrs Salamo was so upset by the terrible news that she took off without saying anything to Kip Kip and Wendi. The twins stood there staring at the headmistress, who ran out of the room.
‘What’ll we say to her?’ Kip Kip asked.
‘You tell her,’ Wendi said. ‘I’m ashamed.’
‘What? That our father gets drunk and spends all the money, so we haven’t got enough for food…?’ said Kip Kip.
‘That makes me ashamed, and I don’t want Mrs Salamo to know that.’
Kip Kip thought for a moment. He always wanted to tell the truth, as the pastor and his mother and their grandparents had taught them to. His heart pounded. He felt sad and upset at what had been happening in their household recently. He felt too ashamed to tell Mrs Salamo that their father drank all their money and bashed them and their mother. Every morning he and Wendi got up very early to collect bottles and do odd jobs to get money.
Kip Kip’s mind raced. Mrs Salamo might tell someone, and their father would be in big trouble. Their father didn’t live at home anymore. He only came home when he wanted money. He just travelled around the place with his friends drinking and doing things he shouldn’t.
Kip Kip didn’t know what to say or think. There was a picture of the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea on the wall. The Prime Minister looked down at Kip Kip as if he were saying: ‘Tell the truth. Don’t tell lies.’ Kip Kip felt miserable thinking about their troubles caused by drink and violence.
‘She should be talking to our Dad, not us. He’s the one who causes the problems with all his beer drinking,’ Wendi said. ‘I’m going to tell Mrs Salamo the truth. Why should we get into trouble because he drinks and spends our mother’s money?’
Kip Kip was usually more afraid of things than Wendi. They stood there for several moments staring at each other. Kip Kip looked up at the Prime Minister but this time, Kip Kip thought the man looked sleepy.
Suddenly, the twins were startled by a noise coming from the corner of the office.
Beeeepy boooooo beeeepy beeeepy boooooo beeeepy.
They looked at each other and then out the door to see if Mrs Salamo was there. But nobody was there. It was well after school closing time and everyone was gone.
Beeeepy boooooo beeeepy beeeepy boooooo beeeepy.
The sound was very strange. Stranger than anything they had ever heard before. It was high pitched and sounded like a machine which might explode at any moment. They stood frozen not knowing what to do and stared at the corner of the room where the strange noise came from.
Beeepy booo beeeepy. Beeepy booo beeeepy booo.
‘What?’ Kip Kip asked his sister. He didn’t want to look afraid because she often teased him about being a coward.
‘Go on,’ Wendi said. ‘Have a look under that cloth before it explodes, and we’re killed.’ She didn’t think her brother would even go near the thing making the noise. She thought he would run away. Kip Kip was half an inch shorter than Wendi, and she was older by five minutes.
‘Kip Kip was born five minutes after you, Wendi. So that means Kip Kip is younger than you.’ Everyone in the settlement laughed when their mother Kristina said that. Kip Kip had been trying to prove that he really was the boss, that he wasn’t afraid or younger or anything like that. But he didn’t like taking chances.
‘What’s under the cloth?’ he asked. He took two steps towards the terrible noise and his heart banged and pounded. He turned to see if Mrs Salamo was coming down the corridor so that he could be saved from investigating the noise. But she wasn’t.
‘Go on,’ Wendi said. ‘What are you scared of?’
‘Is it a television?’ Kip Kip asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Wendi replied. ‘I can’t see through cloth. Can you see through cloth, stupid boy? Don’t be afraid. Look under the cloth before it explodes and blows you up.’
Very slowly, Kip Kip went nearer the noise. He was more afraid of the headmistress coming back, but also he wanted to know where the noise was coming from.
He jumped when it made the noise because it sounded like the chainsaws with which the Goroka Town Council cut down trees. He looked at his sister and took a big, deep breath. Perhaps he would save the school from being blown up. Then he would be called a hero. Everyone would clap and cheer him, and maybe he’d get a prize from Mrs Salamo…
‘Go on, idiot. Look!’ Wendi ordered. ‘Don’t just stand there like a nincompoop!’
Poor frightened Kip Kip! He suddenly lurched towards the cloth and ripped it off.
Beeeepy boooooo beeeepy beeeepy boooooo beeeepy.
But all the twins saw was a small machine, like a television. It also had a thing like a typewriter attached to it by a cord. Words were jumping around on the screen. The noise came out even more loudly, as if having the cloth removed had made it upset.
Beeeepy boooooo beeeepy beeeepy boooooo beeeepy!
Wendi’s heart went bump, bump! She stared in astonishment at the strange, screaming machine
‘What do you think it is, Kip Kip?’ she asked. She felt very curious. But poor Kip Kip leapt back and fell over Mrs Salamo’s handbag. Everything inside it spilled out: lipstick, eye make-up, buai, pencils, pens, money, handkerchiefs, an address book and a photo of a fat man holding a fat cat. So many things falling out of the headmistress’s bag across the floor.
‘Oh, no!’ Wendi groaned. ‘Look what you’ve done now. Oh, boy, are we in trouble now!’
Beeeepy boooooo beeeepy beeeepy boooooo beeeepy!
‘Do you know what that noise is? Ah!’ Wendi yelled. ‘What is it? I don’t know. What…?’ But she quickly corrected herself because she always wanted to know things that her brother didn’t. Like most boys, Kip Kip said that girls didn’t know much, that boys were more intelligent, that girls couldn’t understand things that boys could.
‘I know what it is,’ she said. ‘So!’
Wendi put her hands on her hips as if she were the queen of technology who knew all the secrets of this strange machine.
‘Well? What is it?’ Kip Kip asked. Kip Kip thought he had seen a picture of something like that in one of the magazines he’d found on the path coming back from school. Even though he was in grade seven and he loved reading books, he wasn’t sure what this strange television-typewriter was. He’d only seen television three or four times in his life because in their settlement there was no electricity, and no money for television sets.
‘I’m scared,’ Wendi confessed. She had the awful thought that the machine was bad. You never knew about machines that came from other countries and could do strange things. She had heard stories at night while sitting around the fire with her relatives that in America there were machines that could open up your head and take out your brains. And there were machines which could take a picture of your bones. Then, if you held the picture up to the light, you could see all your bones just like a ghost’s or a skeleton’s. And what about the machines that those white ladies put on their heads to make their hair go into curls? And electric chairs that electrocuted people, that killed criminals with electric shocks, their eyes popping out, their ears falling off… You never knew what sort of puripuri could be committed with these inventions. The noise gave Wendi tingling feelings up and down her back: skeletons, bones, electrocution, white ladies’ curls, no brains! She screamed and ran out of the office and down the corridor to get away from the machine.
‘Come back coward!’ shouted Kip Kip. Kip Kip thought he wasn’t afraid. But he wasn’t sure. He bent over to put the things he’d spilled from Mrs Salamo’s handbag back inside. But as he did, the television thing gave a terrible scream as if it were a pig being stabbed with a bush knife. He jumped up but hit his head on the desk and cried out nearly as loudly as the machine.
‘Ha ha ha ha ha,’ Wendi said. She had come back and was staring from the doorway. She was always belting him on the arm because he didn’t like to do some things such as go out by himself at night in case something creepy got hold of him. Kip Kip was often scared of things.
‘It’s only a television with a typewriter joined to it,’ Wendi said wisely. Yes, that’s what the machine was. A television with a typewriter joined to it. These Americans or Australians or whoever invented it were so lazy that they wanted to have everything all joined up together so that they wouldn’t have to move very far. That’s what the machine was, a television typewriter built so that lazy people could type and watch television. Wendi was sure of that. She stood with her arms crossed like Mrs Salamo. And she looked at her brother very crossly, exactly like the headmistress did.
‘Fix that noisy machine, Kip Kip,’ Wendi demanded, just like the headmistress.
‘I’ll stop that noise,’ Kip Kip said.
‘Don’t touch it,’ Wendi said suddenly, changing her mind.
‘What if…? If Mrs Salamo?’
But her brother was already playing with the machine.
‘I know what to do. I’ll turn it off here like…’ He tried to sound clever, but he didn’t really understand it at all. He thought that if he turned off the switch like a light on the wall, the machine would stop making that noise and wouldn’t explode and destroy the school.
‘No,’ Wendi shouted. She’d forgotten to act like the headmistress. ‘If, if, if…’ she blubbered.
‘See, it’s you who is scared,’ Kip Kip said. ‘I know what to do. Look. Come here. I have the knowledge.’
Wendi was suddenly very impressed with her brother’s knowledge. He read more than she did. But then she said, ‘You don’t know how to. Do you?’ She looked at him quizzically. Sometimes he did know the strangest things. In their bush material house, they had a portable radio, and Kip Kip always knew how to fix it when everybody else thought it was broken.
‘It’s bigger than our radio, more complicated. I mean if you break that machine, you’ll need new batteries!’ she said.
But her brother was crawling on hands and knees towards a switch on the wall.
Just then they heard a loud ACHOO! ACHOO! which seemed to be right there in the room. They both froze as if a big frost had come from the mountains, like sometimes in the gardens freezing all the vegetables.
‘Oh,’ Wendi said. ‘It’s Mrs Salamo coming back and…’ She looked at her brother on his hands and knees like a thief. And all of Mrs Salamo’s things were spilled on the floor. Her lipstick was squashed. Wendi’s heart went Bump! Bump! Bump! inside her chest. They heard Mrs Salamo yelling quite close. She was beneath the window. Again, she sneezed ACHOO! ACHOO! like some enormous animal.
‘I remember what it’s called now,’ he said. ‘It’s an uummm. I forget.’ It was a big word. He’d read it in the magazine he’d found on the path. ‘Oh, yeah, a computer.’
Slowly he crawled towards the switch to turn off the computer. He had to save the school, to stop the explosion.
‘Don’t touch it,’ Wendi shouted. ‘Mrs Salamo’s coming back. Let her stop this silly magic thing.’
Magic was a word that Kip Kip knew a lot about. But not white man’s magic. The magic he knew about was learned from their grandfather who lived far away in the remote village.
‘I will never go to the big towns like Goroka. Why should I go there and eat all that expensive food from a trade store and look at all that magic from the white man’s land? I am an old man. I have my own magic and I am happy here in the village with my own customs and gardens and my life.’ That’s what the twins’ grandfather always said.
When they had gone back to their traditional land during the school holidays, Kip Kip’s grandfather had taken him into the bush for several days. There he had shown him things that were sacred and for men’s eyes only. Magic things. Words and incantations and leaves and roots which were of such sacred knowledge that he was forbidden to tell even his twin sister. Together Kip Kip and his grandfather had gone to secret places. There, grandfather had shown Kip Kip much about traditional lore.
‘You and your sister are like two seeds in the same pod. You are very good friends and that is good in these modern times. Perhaps a sister and brother can act like that with all your book learning and sitting in the same classroom and you do not live in the men’s house like I did when I was your age. Life in towns is different now. But still, you must learn my ancestral customs, my magic. Here is the ancestors’ blue stone. Learn what it is. One day you will need it to survive. One of these precious, blue stones was stolen once. A long time ago and I want it back. But…’ Grandfather had held out the sacred blue ancestral stone for Kip Kip to study.
‘One day I want that stolen ancestral stone back. Before I die.’ Grandfather looked sad. ‘Find it for me Kip Kip or I will die an unhappy man. When you find it, you will be a man. You must find the ancestral stone.’
The ancestral stone was the bluest thing that Kip Kip had ever seen in his life. He held it as a sacred object, his heart beating, his eyes intent on the beauty.
‘But you must never tell your sister these things because this is knowledge for men alone,’ grandfather had told Kip Kip. ‘Don’t forget our traditional ways, and our magic, and our sacred things, Kip Kip. Papua New Guinea may soon be a modern country, but…but…but…’ said the old man.
‘Ah!’ Wendi yelled. The screen on the computer flickered and words flashed onto it.
‘Geeee!’ Kip Kip said as he jumped up. ‘Look. Words’
‘Geeee!’ shouted Wendi. ‘Like a horse.’
‘Geeee! Geeee! Look!’ The twins both laughed. Wendi winked at her brother, and he winked back. But then they suddenly remembered that Mrs Salamo was near.
The terrible beeepybeeeepybooo noise had stopped. There were words flashing on the screen.
‘Do as it says,’ Wendi said. ‘Read the instructions and push the right buttons.’
‘Well, you’re grade seven too, dopey. You help me.’
On the computer screen in bold blue letters the instructions said: PUSH THE ENTER BUTTON.
‘Geeee!’ Kip Kip said.
‘Go on. You afraid?’ Wendi asked. He was afraid, just a little bit. But more excited than afraid.
Kip Kip pushed the ENTER button. His heart was beating faster than the heart of a cuscus in the bush when the hunter comes with his bow and arrow. The beating heart of that cuscus when it sees the arrow pointing at its own head but can’t run away because it is too afraid to move.
Being here in front of the computer with all those flashing lights was just like that mysterious time in the bush with his grandfather standing next to him saying, ‘Now, Kip Kip, you will learn the secrets that all men in this culture must know in order to survive. Hold the ancestral stone and understand it.’
The computer made more beep beep noises when he pushed ENTER. Then on the screen the directions read: NOW YOU MUST PUSH THE CODE NUMBER.
‘What’s code number mean?’ Wendi asked. She had never pushed a button in her life except the one on the radio in their little house and half the time that didn’t work if someone had stolen the batteries.
‘Code number. Code number. You must type in the code number. Quick. Push the code number!’ Wendi cried.
Mrs Salamo yelled from near the window, ‘Work parade! You lazy boys over there go to my office. I’ll be there in a minute.’
Next to the computer was a magazine. On the front cover in big bold letters was the headline: ‘Mexico City: Largest City in the World.’ Wendi, who was looking at the magazine cover, said, ‘Mexico City? I didn’t know that was the largest…’
‘What does code mean? What should I type?’ Kip Kip asked. Just at that moment Mrs Salamo entered the passageway. The twins could hear her feet going flop clop flop clop flop clop down the passageway towards her office.
‘Mexico City,’ Wendi gasped.
Kip Kip typed MEXICO CITY on the typewriter board. The screen said PUSH ENTER BUTTON. Kip Kip obeyed the machine’s instructions and pushed the button marked ENTER.
Mrs Salamo was at the doorway. ‘You naughty children playing with that expensive computer! Don’t touch it!’
She stood and looked at her squashed lipstick, at her open bag, at the twins pushing buttons on her new computer that had only been in the office two days and which she had no idea how to use.
But it was too late. Fliff! Fliff! Flaaaaaaf! The twins disappeared into thin air! On the screen, the astonished headmistress saw the words MEXICO CITY flashing in bright red and green. But the twins were nowhere to be seen. They had completely disappeared! It was as if they had been banished from this earth by some terrible, evil magic!Read on